The SoCal connection between Scouts and God
Paul Schneider has been a Boy Scout for 11 years. The 16-year-old from Valencia started out as a Tiger Cub Scout in first grade. In fifth grade he became a Boy Scout and, on Sept. 28, 2010, made Eagle Scout.
As a Boy Scout, he earned the Ad Altare Dei (to the altar of God) award through a program that helps Catholic scouts develop a fully Christian way of life in their faith community. It’s organized around workbook chapters based on the seven sacraments: Eucharist, baptism, confirmation, penance (or reconciliation), matrimony, holy orders and the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
“You talk about the sacrament, and then you talk about scouting --- and then at the end of each chapter you kind of relate them both together,” explains Paul about the program mentored by local Catholics. “So we did Bible readings and went over different parts of the sacrament and then related it all to scouting.”
Moreover, last March as an Eagle Scout, he earned the Pope Pius XII award, which is Catholic scouting’s program dealing with life vocations and church ministries. It includes youth-led discussions on current issues facing the church and society as well as a retreat or day of recollection.
“That one was more geared towards high school students, and you talked more about your vocational call,” he points out. “So we brought in deacons and priests and nuns, and then a married couple. And we asked them different question about their vocations.”
Again, the aim was to relate Catholicism and the church today to scouting. The teenager did a report on illegal immigration. For both awards, or “emblems,” scouts must appear before a board of review panel.
Morality and values
“The big thing that these scouting programs did for me is understanding that my faith and my belief in God isn’t just at church on Sundays,” he says. “It’s everywhere. When you see it in a place like scouting, which religion technically isn’t exactly a part of, you see how it relates to every part of your life.
“Scouting has really helped me grow in my own sense of morality and values, more so than anything else I’ve been involved in. We have our Scout law where we say a Scout is trustworthy, helpful, loyal, friendly and all those things that we’re called to be as members of the church.
“And you also spend a lot of time in the wilderness and taking in God’s creation and spending more quiet time being able to reflect on things,” he adds. “So it definitely ingrains those morals into you big time.”
Scouting has really helped me grow in my own sense of morality and values, more so than anything else I’ve been involved in. We have our Scout law where we say a Scout is trustworthy, helpful, loyal, friendly and all those things that we’re called to be as members of the church.
Plus, there’s that last tenant of the Scout Law: A Scout is reverent. Paul says that’s a “big thing” Catholic Scouts focus on. Basically, it’s a kind of respect --- knowing that there’s a time for joking around and having fun as well as a time for seriousness and reverence. And he says in church is where reverence is required the most for “your unbelievable respect for God.”
And when the 16-year-old is asked if being a Scout all these years has made him a better human being, he doesn’t hesitate with his response.
“Definitely,” he says. “I think it’s done wonders for me. It’s opened up a ton of doors. And being around people who have the same morals and desires that you do, and being around adults that you can role model has just been wonderful.
“Scouting has helped my dad and I become so close,” the Eagle Scout also confides. “He’s been a scout master my whole life, and he’s been my confirmation teacher. So, you know, scouting has really been a part of many aspects of my life. And then being able to relate all that to my religion has been a huge deal for me.”
Arthur “Tri” Fritz, director of annual giving for the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, points out that many Catholics don’t really know about the close connection between SoCal scouting to not only the Catholic Church but other religions, too. He reports that more than 40 local troops, in fact, are sponsored by parishes and Catholic organizations.
“Scouting itself isn’t a religious organization. We don’t have the backing of any one faith,” he explains. “But the tenants of scouting have always believed that in the development of a young man, faith should be a part of their lives. So it’s actually in the Scout oath that the kids take. They literally say that: ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and country.’
“It’s a belief in something that’s beyond you. So many activities and programs of the Scouts deal with something that is beyond just the one person. We talk about service. We talk about service to our community, to our country, to the land that we live in.
“So there are values that are part of our lives that are absolutes,” he notes. “There are rights and wrongs in this world. And scouting as an organization is going to do our best to instill the moral compass that young men should have, especially at these ages. So that they are trained not just in school with English and math, but with a value and ethic system that will provide for them as they go through life.”
Fritz points out that the first religion award given out to a Boy Scout was for Catholic scouting in 1927. Today, there is a National Catholic Committee on Scouting within the Catholic Church as well as a Catholic Committee on Scouting for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. And last year more than 300 local Scouts earned Ad Altare Dei (ages 13-14) and Pope Pius XII (ages 15-18) or Light of Christ (ages 6-7) and Parvuli Dei (ages 8-10) Catholic emblems.
One of them was Paul Schneider.
“I want to remain in scouting as long as I can, and then, obviously, have my sons be involved in scouting and the church, too,” muses the junior at Hart High School in Santa Clarita. “I think scouting has done unbelievable things for me, and, you know, I can’t thank my dad enough for getting me involved. So nothing would make me happier than to see my sons go the same way that I did.”